Illness and Death Beautiful?

You know, over the past seven months, since my Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer, we have had many good moments. In the days since Mum passed away, we have relived many of them, delighting in her assurance of her being the Lord’s and the eternal security that was absolutely sure and certain because of the unchangeable, irrevocable, sure and steadfast covenant made in all eternity within the Trinity.

I may talk about some of these ‘beautiful moments’ at some stage, but first some reality.

Death is not beautiful. Terminal illness is not lovely.
There is simply nothing romantic about God’s beautiful creation being ravaged by the effects of the Fall and of sin. 

Put simply, it is ugly.

There. I’ve said it.

I have read many accounts of the deathbeds of believers and stories are told of the sick relative almost smiling their way into Heaven; of loved ones falling peacefully into the arms of Jesus; and of angels singing as the soul of the believer was carried from the scene of time into the eternal realms.

Well, I am not doubting any accounts I’ve read. I know for a fact that God has granted to many families times of delighting in Him as loved ones were ushered to their Heavenly Home. But I want to tell ‘our story’ if for no other reason than to encourage other families of believers who don’t have such lovely experiences. I don’t want families to wonder whether something was ‘wrong’ with the faith of a believing family member whose experience was much more down to earth, much more gritty, and much less dreamy.

Since Mum was diagnosed with untreatable cancer at the beginning of January this year, she had struggles. Whilst it was the case that her soul rested in the finished work of Christ, whilst she never had any complaints of ‘why me?’ (far from it), and whilst she found countless reasons for giving thanks to her Father in Heaven, yet she could not lift her mind out of the valley into which it went when she received the news.

She did not like having cancer.

Yes, she was thankful. She had assurance of her salvation. She was surrounded by her loving husband and family. But she was sad.

She looked on in awe at others who had cancer but were upbeat and managed to keep living life to the full. She simply couldn’t do it. Although she knew she was going to be in Heaven, and although every believer looks forward to a time when there is going to be no sin in their experience, yet it’s almost as though she was grieving what she was going to lose out on. I don’t know if that’s an accurate reflection of what was going on in her mind, but is it not human (though less spiritual that the way we ought to be) to grieve over what we will not see? She was not going to see her first great-grandchild, due in just six weeks’ time. She was not going to see her eldest grandson marrying, or the younger grandchildren choose career paths. These are very temporal occurrences, and very human ways of looking at things, but until the believer is glorified and made sinless, do we not have a tendency to be temporal and human in our outlook?

As I hinted, this is not a picture-perfect look at how the believer ought to be in their final months. This is simply a look at what our reality was.

In the first few months of the year, she had her greatest temporal delights in being surrounded by her family, and her greatest spiritual delights in listening to sermons, in their daily family worship times with only herself and Dad, and in the prayers of the Lord’s people who came to visit.
These three things were a blessing and a delight to her soul.

As time went on and her body weakened, she struggled to listen to sermons. She was unable to concentrate on anything that lasted the length of a sermon, and so her daily times of listening to sermons with Dad became less frequent.

She still loved her and Dad’s private family worship times and would say, ‘Dad prays so beautifully’. These daily times were her greatest delight. But towards the end of the six months, she needed all prayers to be short. Maybe some people feel this was unspiritual, but isn’t it amazing how we expect more from others than we do from ourselves. After all, I know when I’m unwell – even with a flu type virus or with a migraine – I struggle with too much noise, I can barely make conversation, and my concentration on spiritual things is next to zilch. If this is excusable with a virus, what on earth do we expect when a person’s body is being decimated by cancer?!

Our old minister used to warn his congregation that now is the time to seek the Lord. Whilst God’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save even to our last breath, he always warned us that a time of illness is not the time to begin seeking the Lord …. that our every faculty would be so taken up by our illness that we would simply not have the capacity to think clearly or concentrate fully on other matters. Oh how true! Even when, for decades of our lives, communing with God in prayer has been the most natural way to begin the day, to end the day, and to spend many a spell during a day, I can say with all certainty that a time of serious illness diminishes our capacity for all these things.

So if you are not in Christ, I can’t emphasise it enough: Seek Christ NOW.

Because, honestly, a time of illness will take up all your thoughts, and matters of the soul will simply not be your priority.

And so it was with Mum. As her body weakened, and tiredness was a constant factor in her daily life, she wanted everything to be short: short visits, short prayers, short conversations. Along with a number of other things I’ve learnt by going through this experience, I would know now to keep visits very short with anyone who is very ill. In fact, I will write a post later on ‘What I’ve Learnt … ‘, because yes, as a family we learnt a lot that I hope I’ll have the grace to put into practice in the future.

On Mum’s last day here on earth, and as she told me very matter-of-factly that ‘this is the end, Anne’, we spoke of how illness had so taken up our thoughts over the past weeks and months, that we’d barely talked about Heaven. Again, this was our experience. It wasn’t romantic, but it was a stark reminder of what the Fall has brought into the world, of what sin has done, and of the reality of what physical illness does.
Our constant comfort was not in how we were feeling – after all:
 ‘feelings come and feelings go, 
and feelings are deceiving….’ 
Rather, our absolute comfort was in the unbreakable, unalterable covenant made in all eternity, in which Mum was. This is our assurance. This is our comfort. This is where we all need to be. And this is where our comfort was in all the months that illness took away, bit by bit, the Mum we had been used to all our lives, and this is where our comfort is now that that battle is over.

I’d never before been in the position of seeing illness and death close up. Having seen it, I hate sin and its effects all the more; and I love and wonder all the more at the Saviour who has overcome death, who brings beauty out of the ashes of death, and who is the resurrection and the life. In death, as in life, HE is everything.

Mum and Dad, taken at Catherine's wedding almost two years ago.


  1. Thank you Anne, for your honesty. I believe there is no 'right' way for someone to deal with terminal illness and death. Your mother's salvation was secure, but as a human being, she was suffering the effects of the Fall. I love the scripture that says, "For He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust." Ps 103:14 God is not disappointed with how your mum dealt with her illness.

    You mum is no longer sad. She is fully, radiantly one of the great cloud of witnesses cheering you all on as you run your race here on earth. She will know of her great grand baby, marriages etc...

    Your honesty will help others dealing with this same situation.

    1. Thank you, Deanna.... 'He knows our frame, He remembers we are dust'.... how unspeakably precious these words are.
      Thank you x

  2. This is what is real. It isn't pretty. I think the "pretty" pictures some paint of their loved ones passing away isn't as common as we are lead to believe. The few times I have come face to face with death it wasn't pretty or sweet. There was the earthly suffering and you said it well - our minds are completely taken up with the moment, the "what will they miss", our world stops during that time. Yes, we may have the comfort of them being face to face with Jesus, no suffering and perfect bodies, but we are human. We still see the sin and horrors of every day and think of what they are missing. Your post puts it wisely. Thank you for sharing your reality with us. I pray you and your family keep finding comfort in God!

    1. Thank you, Susan. God created us to live, and death is just not what He created. So much has been spoiled ....but ....one day, ALL will be renewed!
      A x

  3. Thank you Anne for sharing such a personal account of how you all dealt with your mum's last days. Praying the Lord will uphold you in the days to come as He certainly did through the days gone past x Martha

    1. Thank you, Martha. He is such a kind and loving Father. We were privileged to be able to care for Mum for these past months. Precious x

  4. Anne, I've enjoyed reading many of your posts through the years, getting a peek into your Scottish lifestyle and rejoicing in your deep faith (which I share). I was saddened to read of your mom's passing. This post resonated with me because we just went through a similar home-going with my dad on Christmas Day 2016.
    Dad was a lifelong rancher in southwest Nebraska. In November 2015, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to the liver (terminal) and given 3 months to live. He chose no treatment, opting to live whatever time was left as best he could. He unsaddled for the last time on October 28th after a 6 mile cattle drive. His earthly journey ended on Christmas morning. We were blessed to be able to care for him at home to the end.
    I can very much relate to your experience and your emotions. Even though Dad knew where he was going, it was a difficult end physically for him those last 2 days. Through this experience, I can better understand why death is spoken of as the enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). How grateful I am that Jesus has conquered it.
    Like you, I've learned much through this journey. May the Lord continue to sustain you through your time of grief.

    1. Thank you so much, Jan. Loved reading your comment and feel such sadness for your situation too. I have better understood that although those we lose who are in Christ are safe, and are where there is no more pain and no more sin, yet the grief of losing a loved one is so, so sore. My dad is honestly breaking my heart. Losing his wife of 56 years is agony beyond words for him. I ache for him....
      "He unsaddled for the last time on October 28th....". Oh Jan, this is really painful to read. And we have to keep coming back to God's Word, which gives us a reality check. After all, we are all just passing through. Life is short, even if we get a 'long' life. Eternity is forever. And, after all, Christ needs to bring His own Home ...
      Do you blog? Ranching in Nebraska .... sounds like balm to a person's mind
      Thank you for the lovely comment
      Anne x

    2. Anne, Thank you for your response. My folks marked their 60th anniversary in October before Dad passed. Half a world away and yet we are connected by similar circumstances and, of course, a common faith.
      Your "ranching in Nebraska" comment made me smile because I've always been enamored by your part of the world. Part of my ancestry is Scottish. (MacGregor - probably why we're in America, right?) :) We are blessed to be able to live this lifestyle and try to be good stewards of the land and livestock.
      A stockman from Blairgowrie visited us for 2 weeks a couple of years ago. He was touring ranches in the west for several months. A fine young man who fit right in here and we enjoyed getting to know him.
      I don't know how your journey has gone, but I've found with Dad that death was very much like childbirth, the pain seemed unbearable at the time, but the Lord has a way of making the memory of it quickly fade. (I don't know if I'm wording that correctly. It's hard to describe.) Maybe it isn't so much we forget, but that the shock of it isn't as prevalent, and the good memories become clearer than the bad.
      I'm not a blogger or on FaceBook, but I would gladly exchange contact information with you. (Not sure how to do that and keep it private).

    3. You say, "it's hard to describe".... Yes! Everything I talk about seems to end with, 'och, it's hard to describe....that's not what I mean exactly'. I guess words are just inadequate. How is your mum doing? For us, it's only been 3 weeks, and the past week and a half has been the worst, by far, for dad. As we've heard so many say over the years....it's as though you get carried through the first week or two, then reality hits hard. That's where dad is right now :'( . But as you say, the agonising pain will subside. Our God is the great Healer of broken hearts, and the Comforter of those who mourn. I'm so sorry that your dad passed on Christmas day, and that haooyday will always be tinged with that bit of sadness.
      Anne x

    4. Jan, I'm browsing through my blog and re-reading some comments. When I read your analogy to childbirth, I inwardly exclaimed a Yes! 'The good memories become clearer than the bad'. SO true! I'm so glad I did some browsing this morning. That has done me much good xx


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